Saturday, 26 December 2009

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us

John 1:1-14

I was really excited to see our gospel reading for this Christmas morning – it contains some of my favourite verses of scripture. The prologue of John’s gospel is so poetically written; it has been described as a Hymn to the Word, and it fires our imagination on a completely different level than the more commonly set Christmas accounts of the birth of Jesus.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Anyone reading this for the first time might find it a bit hard to get their head round it! Aren’t ‘words’ just neutral, inert things we use to communicate? What does a ‘word’ have to do with God???

In our Old Testament reading, the Lord spoke the good news to his people through his prophets: ‘Listen!’ Isaiah shouts. Jerusalem is redeemed! The Lord’s favour has returned to Zion, and a new day dawns for captive Israel. The action of God, communicated by the ‘spoken’ word.

In our New Testament reading, the written word called The Letter to the Hebrews, it is accepted that God speaks to us in various ways, and notably through the prophets, but the writer states, ‘in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son’. Note the writer didn’t write that God has spoken to us through his son, as he had spoken through the prophets, but that he has spoken to us ‘by’ his Son. By the very existence of his Son, God speaks to us.

And here in John’s gospel is the description of a Word that is neither printed nor verbal, but which is the Word… an embodied Word! ‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us’ – and a new day has dawned. The action of God, communicated and embodied by the incarnation.

‘Word’ is our English translation of the ancient philosophical concept of Logos. Western culture today isn’t really too hot on philosophical concepts. Alas, for the time being, the love of wisdom and truth seems to have been sidelined by the love of consumerism and celebrities. But back in the 1st century AD, the concept of Logos would have been well known; and in the region of Ephesus, where John’s gospel is thought to have been written, it was fairly common for people to discuss philosophy, much like people today might discuss Coronation Street.

300 years before Christ, Aristotle defined logos as the quality of ‘reason’, and it’s from logos that we get the term ‘logic’. And 200 years before Aristotle, the Ephesian philosopher Heraclitus defined the term Logos as the fundamental source of the cosmos. He said that the Logos is eternal, and 'humans always prove unable to understand it...’ That sounds vaguely familiar: ‘The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it’…

So our gospel writer John makes good use of this well-known concept of his time by creatively developing it to express who Jesus is to his readers: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… [And] the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.

Prompted by something I was reading on these verses, I wondered if we could come up with our own poetically imaginative ‘logos’ parallel for our context. The common experience shared by people living in our area has to do with living by the water. Water is essential for the creation of life. And water is fluid, having the properties of ‘continuity’ and the ability to ‘flow’; and even the distinction between solids and fluid is not entirely understood. So if you’ll bear with me in a little light-hearted frivolity this Christmas morning – here’s my attempt at an imaginative, poetic parallel for logos:

The beginning was fluid.
It was fluid with God; fluid was God.
The Fluid became solid flesh and flowed among us.

Ok, maybe not. Anyway, it’s probably not really possible to improve on John’s inspired gospel writing. And his writing was absolutely vital to the early Church in determining an orthodox view of who Christ is. The Church Fathers wanted to distance the Christian logos from that of Heraclitus because his writings were considered to be a source of heresy. The Church didn’t even want to attempt to address ancient philosophy until much later, even though many of the Church Fathers were converted philosophers.

There were other convictions also around at the time, and John’s prologue also answers these: to the rabbis who claimed that the Torah (the Law) existed before creation and was the source of light and life, John replied that these claims apply rather to the Logos. John's answer to the Gnostics who would deny a real incarnation was that "the Word became flesh." And to those who were still following John the Baptist, he made it clear that John was not the Light but only a witness to the Light.

So John our evangelist’s purpose was to clarify the divine identity of Jesus. Our reading from Hebrews also does the same, confirming Jesus as Creator, Revealer, Sustainer, Redeemer, and Exalted one, recognising both who he is and what he has done. Jesus was not merely a messenger; he is the active message, himself.

Here’s something you may or may not know - young people today actually use the term ‘word’ as an affirmation of truth! In other words, ‘Word’ in youth culture is a way of saying ‘yes’! And that fits so well with what the Incarnation means: Jesus is God’s ‘yes’ to us; Jesus is God’s Word to us. The Word made flesh affirms humanity itself and God’s love for humanity. And that’s a word we need to pass on to others!

Today, we celebrate the Word made flesh, who came to dwell among us. Emmanuel – God with us. And we will celebrate his presence with us when we gather round His Table. And though we hold dear the stories of his coming as a baby, lying helpless in a manger, it is good to know that his incarnation means so much more than that. Praise be to God for his Holy Word. Amen.


  1. Hello! You wrote: “In our New Testament reading, the written word called The Letter to the Hebrews, it is accepted that God speaks to us in various ways, and notably through the prophets, but the writer states, ‘in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son’.”

    The Creator inspires people in different ways, but everything He says is in accordance with His Torah.

    According to Devarim (“Deuteronomy”) 13:1-6 in Hebrew, any prophet who adds or subtracts a mitzwah (commandment) from Torah is not a valid prophet. So for example, a person who says that it is okay to eat pork– he is not a valid prophet. The Creator does not change (Malakhi 3:6). This is also what Ribi Yehoshua ha-Mashiakh (the Messiah) from Nazareth taught (his teachings are found here:

    All the best, Anders Branderud

  2. Ah, word, words, Word, our subjects. And predicates. Remember when R. Buckminster Fuller said, "God, to me, it seems, is a verb not a noun."

  3. Anders Branderud - hello and thank you for your comment. My answer to your comment is from the New Testament, where the teachings of the Messiah are found:

    Jesus said, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulful them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practises and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven."

    Please read Matthew's gospel from chapter 5 to chapter 7:11.

    Jesus was not merely a Prophet, so your interpretation of Deuteronomy 13:1-6 does not fit for him, in the view of Christians.

    Peace be with you.

  4. Hi June (aka Mom!) - thanks for posting your comment - love the quote from R. Buckminster Fuller! Is there a term for a word that can be both a noun and a verb? Jesus 'the Word made flesh' - it would follow that God is both noun and verb.


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